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China: 1-Child Policy

Cast of characters: HR manager

Marketplace Staff Jun 21, 2010

Don’t get HR types started on only children in China. Unless you have a lot of time. Human resources — finding good workers and keeping them in China — regularly tops the charts of multinational companies’ China headaches.

The stereotype of Little Emperors, as they’re known: selfish, moody, not team players. They’re the reason China’s national soccer team stinks, no one knows how to pass the ball. The truth? We went to Michael Shu, director of human resources at a division of publisher Bertelsmann in Shanghai. He spoke to our very own only child, Cecilia Chen.

Interview excerpts

What’s different about only-child employees in the workplace?

They are more independent. They are more focused on self-learning and self-thinking. They focus on their achievement, and how they’re treated.

Challenges of hiring only-children?

They expect more attention from the company and supervisors. Managers need to care more about their feelings. In my team, there is an only child born in 1980’s. She does her job well. But whenever I should give her negative feedback, I have to be very careful about her feelings, not to hurt them.

Why does a company need to care about their feelings?

For this group, feelings impact their performance greatly. If they’re happy enough, they can do everything well. If not, it hurts their performance. If these people are important workers to a company, you have to take care of their feelings.

How loyal are only-child employees?

China is a fast-growing economy; there are abundant opportunities in this market. They tend to be less loyal than the older generation. I think it’s because they receive too much attention from their family, from their school, from the society. They will take what they’ve been given for granted, which means you have to keep giving to keep them in the company. If you stop or pause, or sometimes take away something, they’ll feel very unhappy and definitely find other opportunities in the market, which is not so difficult nowadays.

Are they harder to satisfy?

You can say that. They are pretty demanding in some aspects: compensation, salary, promotion, title, training opportunities, even the location of their office space.

Are they hard to satisfy because they’ve been given everything, or perhaps also they’ve been exposed to more information in the world?

Partly it’s that they’re only children. But I believe it’s also the result of the change of society. In the old generation, there was not much difference between people. Whether you were a company head or small potato, your salary was the today.

But it’s totally different now. If you are lucky, if you are smart enough, if you work hard, you can definitely achieve more than other people around you.

What’s good about only-children employees, the benefits?

As I said, most are pretty independent. Once they are convinced of their target or goal, they will work extremely hard and aggressively. Definitely they know what they want and they’ll fight for the goal.

Are they good team players? That’s often a criticism.

Maybe my answer is very different from others. I think at least during the interviews, even if they are only children; they perform pretty well in teamwork role-playing. I think the challenge for only children as team players is they really know what they want. They will go very straight to that goal. So they don’t care too much about others feelings, they are pretty self-focused.

Only-children often speak of stress. Do you see it?

In our company, most employees have been fairly treated. But in some moments, maybe there is some unfairness. Older workers are very likely to accept that. But for the only child, they will be very critical. Those moments are stressful for them.

Only children, especially those born in the 80’s and 90’s are weak at emotion management. It’s because of how parents and teachers treated them when they were young. They got too much attention, their fathers may have said, “Oh, don’t be upset, I’ll buy you such and such.” Even teachers. So gradually, these children lost the ability of emotion management.

Our company is a service company. I think for only children and the younger generation, one weaknesses is a lack of customer service spirit, because they have been served in family and school when they grew up. They have been taken care of. So when they’re assigned to a job to serve our client, it challenges them. They’re not used to it. Sometimes clients are pretty tough, and they will take it personally and not take cope with this stress properly. So we have adjusted our training system for that group of people.

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